"The ship was exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait as provided for under international law [...] International law requires that the right of transit passage shall not be impeded, and therefore the Iranian action constitutes illegal interference", the British mission to the UN said in a letter, cited by Reuters.
"Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate. We do not seek confrontation with Iran [...] But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognised transit corridors", the letter said, cited by Reuters.
On Friday, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized UK-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz over what it described as a breach of international maritime regulations. The vessel, with 23 crew members on board, was piloted to the Bandar Abbas port. The crew includes 18 Indians, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino.
The IRGC reportedly claimed that the UK-flagged ship had broken maritime rules by switching off its tracking system and ignoring the lane for ships entering the Persian Gulf. The head of ports in the Hormuzgan province said Saturday that the Stena Impero crashed into a fishing vessel, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA.
The maritime clash comes after UK Marines assisted in the seizure of an Iranian supertanker off Gibraltar on 4 July on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
Tensions in the Middle East have escalated recently in the wake of attacks on oil tankers in the area between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The United States blamed the attacks on Iran and boosted its military presence in the region, but Iran has denied playing any role in the incidents.
London is reportedly preparing plans to target Iran with sanctions over the seized Stena Impero. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is reportedly expected to announce on Sunday a package of diplomatic and economic measures, including possible asset freezes, in response to the capture of the UK-flagged ship, according to The Telegraph.
On 8 May 2018, Washington fully withdrew from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear treaty and reimposed sanctions on Iran. A year later, Tehran announced its decision to suspend some of its obligations under the agreement, giving the other nuclear deal signatories — France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and the European Union — 60 days to save the accord by facilitating oil exports and trade with Iran. Tehran’s decision - legal under the terms of the JCPOA - to enrich uranium beyond the limit was announced after the deadline had expired.
Last week, Iran said it had started to enrich uranium beyond the 3.67-percent limit outlined in the nuclear deal. On the same day, the Iranian statement was confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.